Thursday, August 25, 2016

Backpacking in Trinity Lakes provides quick access to six lakes basin close to home

Wendy is happy to be in the mountains 

Big Lookout Lake 

Relaxing on big granite rocks on the shore of Big Lookout Lake 

Heart Lake 

Big Rainbow Lake 

My new pack ... much lighter than the old Kelty! 

Wendy hikes toward the top of the pass 
Hi all,

After spending quite a bit of time on the river this summer, I had a strong itch to go backpacking last weekend. I wanted to go somewhere relatively close by, as both Wendy and I had work stuff going on through Friday afternoon, but we still wanted to get out of town Friday night. We decided to head for the Trinity Lakes, a sweet lakes basin under the shadow of towering Trinity Mountain Lookout (elevation 9,451 feet).

We figured that the Trinities would probably be relatively clear of smoke, being well south and west of the leading edge of the Pioneer Fire. And that turned out to be true!

It'd been 20 years since I've been up to the Trinities, quite honestly, and I forgot how long it takes to get there, even if you go through Prairie, the most direct route via 3 hours of dirt roads. Wendy and I took Black's Creek Road to Prairie on Friday evening, and enjoyed the scenic drive along the South Fork of the Boise River. It was about 8 p.m. as we pulled into Prairie, and I figured we'd better look for a campsite somewhere along the forest road because we had some lamb steaks to BBQ. We were still an hour from the Trinities, and it'd be dark by then. We spied a nice outhouse by the Prairie Airstrip and car-camped by a picnic bench on the end of the airfield.

Our campsite on the Prairie Airfield 
We drove east to the Fall Creek Road the next morning and scaled a steep dirt road to Big Trinity Lake, the trailhead. The dirt road becomes a steep and gnarly 4WD road for the last couple of miles. I was wishing I'd taken my Ford F-250 instead of my Honda Pilot as I slowed rolled over razor-sharp rocks in the final ascent into the Trinity Lakes area, holding my breath all the way. Even so, it's rare to be able to drive to a trailhead at 8,200 feet, which of course, puts you in prime position to access the lakes basin without that much climbing.

There are a number of super-cool car-camping spots around Big Trinity Lake for future reference. The trailhead to the Trinity Lakes is on the east side of the lake, even though the topo map shows it on the west side. Not true!

Our plan was to scale the pass on the well-worn singletrack trail and decide which lakes to visit after we got a closer view. It's about 1 mile from the trailhead to the top of the pass, gaining about 500 feet. From that perch, Green Island Lake looked swampy and poor for fishing. We decided to head into Big Lookout Lake and make a base camp there. It's about 2.5 miles total to Big Lookout from the trailhead. The lake was crystal clear, and nice and deep for fishing and swimming. There were several campsites around the edge of the lake, and that's a good thing because most of them were full.

Topo map for Trinity Lakes area (click to enlarge)
Take a Boise National Forest map with you
for road navigation.
Wendy liked the quick access. "The Trinities are my new favorite place for a short hike into a whole basin of lakes, there's nothing quite like it," she said.

We've taken our kids to Josephine Lake and Snowslide Lake in McCall, and they're short hikes, but they don't take you into a whole basin of lakes like the Trinities. There are eight high mountain lakes named on the map, but truthfully, several of them are ponds, like Little Lookout Lake.

I brought my fly rod and spin cast set up to fish for trout, and that was fun. I caught a nice cutthroat in Big Lookout Lake, and some smaller fish, but the fish seemed finicky. I could see that a float tube would be "the kind" to really slay the fish up there to access the deep spots in the middle of the large lakes.

Wendy and I toured Heart Lake and Big Rainbow Lake Sunday morning before we hiked out to the trailhead. Those lakes were only a mile or so from Big Lookout, but they were both very big and beautiful. I could see base camping at either one of them.

I must mention how cool it was to see two dad-and-daughter pairs camping at Big Lookout Lake. One of the dads hauled his 2 1/2-year-old daughter up to that lake, carrying a backpack with his sleeping bag and hers, a tent, their food and clothes, etc. He told us that he had to carry his daughter most of the way to the lake ... all while carrying a 45-pound pack. That's devotion! It's nice to see young people out backpacking and camping in spite of what we hear -- that our children don't want to venture into the outdoors anymore.

On our drive home, we took Forest Road #172 to Featherville (much smoother road) and took mostly paved roads back to Boise. It's still about 3 hours going that direction, but much easier on your vehicle. Plus, you can stop at the restaurant in Pine and get a milk shake!

As we move into September, I would expect that the number of people flocking to the Trinities will dissipate. And there's plenty of nice weather left for backpacking!
- SS